The East, the West and Sex: Author Richard Bernstein responds

Apparently Richard Bernstein read my non-review of his book and didn’t find it particularly flattering. You can read his comment here. He’s right that I haven’t read the book, and did draw most of my conclusions from various reviews (the Slate review specifically), and from my own experiences with men who have made similar arguments. I still don’t plan on reading the book, but I’ll direct you to a very good review by someone who has and leave it at that.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender, Race & Ethnicity, Racism, Sex and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The East, the West and Sex: Author Richard Bernstein responds

  1. Rebecca says:

    …wow, that comment. O.o

  2. Steph says:

    That analogy with lesbians that he used to try and appeal to a feminist audience should get the condescending prize for condescension.

    I think the Salon article does an excellent job at pointing out the logical flaws in his argument.

  3. Since when have Christian heterosexual white European men ever been an oppressed sexual minority?

  4. preying mantis says:

    “That analogy with lesbians that he used to try and appeal to a feminist audience should get the condescending prize for condescension.”

    I’m still trying to figure out who’s been oppressing white dudes with enough colonial cachet to swing honored-guest status, wield any sort of real authority, or foot the bill for extensive traveling. Or are we still pretending that prostitution and good-time girls are concepts foreign to Western culture, and that the guys packing up and heading to colonized and bankrupted countries for sex are the eternal embodiment of furtive and hunted rebels against a monogamy to which there was no home-grown alternative?

  5. Tattoo Mal says:

    Wow. He sure wrote a long enough comment, huh? If his book is as long winded as the comment, I would not be able to read that book if I wanted to!

  6. Yolanda C. says:

    For anyone who still buys the racist meme of the white john liberating women of color from brown men’s opression, Miller’s review states the case decisively:

    The biggest problem with Bernstein’s formula by which Eastern women get more respect from Western men who in turn receive better sex is that, as Bernstein himself admits on more than one occasion, Eastern women didn’t enjoy substantially better treatment from Western men until fairly recently. If, as several of the Asian women Bernstein interviews seem to think, Western men treat women with more respect than Asian men do, it’s because Western women have demanded baseline changes in Western attitudes, customs and laws. One of those changes was a radical scaling back of the double standard (a phrase that, astonishingly enough, Bernstein never even mentions in “The East, the West and Sex”), with the result that premarital sex has become a widespread and completely unremarkable activity in America and Europe today.

    So there was never really a historical moment in which Bernstein’s proposed trade-off actually worked. Western men happily treated Asian women as badly as Asian men did (and sometimes worse) until cultural changes in the West began to instill in them a greater regard for the human dignity of women and simultaneously removed much of the sexual repression that supposedly drove them away from the West to begin with. Bernstein’s cherished notion of a gentle, forgiving complementarity of need reached between the Western male and the Eastern female in the private sanctuary of the bedroom is a sentimental red herring that makes little sense in the age of ChinaBounder.

  7. Steph says:

    preying mantis- Oh, but you know, western women are just embodiments of frigid western culture. All of them. There are/were no class/race/religious/individual differences in the West. It was a homogeneous upper-middle class white world of frippery, Victorian morals, and tea parties. Actually, there’s no accounting for individuality in the East either apparently: all men are savage and all women are yielding. / sarcasm Wow. I feel disgusting even typing that.

  8. Natalie says:

    The only way the lesbian “analogy” holds is if he’s talking about having sex with children, which is referred to in the original post, and which is certainly a behavior that is taboo and shunned, like the lesbian sex of fifty years ago.

    Unlike lesbian sex, however, having sex with children is fucking immoral for real.

  9. preying mantis says:

    “Unlike lesbian sex, however, having sex with children is fucking immoral for real.”

    Even if they’re practically begging the adult to have sex with them, because they need the money lest their parents beat them and their family continue languishing in crushingly extreme poverty? Surely that’s a form of helping the child-prostitutes and can be forgiven as a human frailty?

  10. Natalie says:

    Even if they’re practically begging the adult to have sex with them, because they need the money lest their parents beat them and their family continue languishing in crushingly extreme poverty? Surely that’s a form of helping the child-prostitutes and can be forgiven as a human frailty?

    My god I hope that’s sarcasm.

    Just in case– Aid organizations do exist. The choice isn’t “have sex with a child and give him or her money” or “give them no money.”

  11. Marksman2000 says:

    Jill, the author did connect with a pretty stiff jab because you basically wrote a review based on another review. However, along with your other readers, I can understand how this happened. In order to review the book professionally you have to read it, which means you need to obtain a copy from somewhere/someone. I don’t see you hurrying this text on your Amazon wish list, so that goes out the window. Also, I can’t see any of your friends in NYC loaning you their copy (ha ha), so there goes another option.

    But at least you were honest and upfront from the start about not reading it.

  12. brightred says:

    can someone tell this dude to read Orientalism plz? kewl thx

  13. preying mantis says:

    “My god I hope that’s sarcasm.”

    Sarcasm on my part. I’m not sure what Mr. Bernstein would make of the argument given his defense of sex tourism wrt adult women consenting due to severe economic coercion.

  14. Raincitygirl says:

    Dear Mr. Bernstein,

    Edward Said called. He wants his book back, because clearly you’ve been using it as a paperweight instead of reading it.

    love, moi

  15. Jay@racialicious says:

    Here’s a review by an actual Asian woman who read the book. This is important as, like she said, the voice of the Asian woman is missing from the picture in the book, and it is similarly missing in Laura Miller’s review.

  16. Agnès says:

    You guys obviously didn’t make it quite to the end where the man manages to quote Audre Lorde.

    He did. He quoted Audre Lorde in an attempt to prove his own point.

  17. Persia says:

    He did. He quoted Audre Lorde in an attempt to prove his own point.

    And he spelled her name wrong!

    Raincitygirl, you nailed it.

  18. Raincitygirl says:

    He did. He quoted Audre Lorde in an attempt to prove his own point.

    And he spelled her name wrong!

    Oh my God, you’re KIDDING!!!!! Wait, you’re not kidding. Wow, the funny just doesn’t stop.

    If this were to be played upon a stage, it would be condemned as an improbable fiction.

  19. victoria says:

    After reading his comment and the reviews, I’m left feeling like this is a case of an author attempting to universalize his own personal experience and maybe even assuage some lingering guilt (‘I’m a white western man married to an Asian woman, therefore all sexual interactions btwn white men and Asian women are like mine: complex, nuanced, and while there can be problems and stuff, overall in the end it’s mutually beneficial for both parties…therefore, yay, i’m not perpetuating colonialist oppression and it’s all good’).

    (yes, I know i’m making huge assumptions… but i’m not writing a book about my assumptions)

  20. Jake says:

    A lot of people (on this thread and elsewhere) are assuming that there must be something pathological or exploitative in Bernstein’s relationship with his wife, simply because he’s American and she’s Chinese. I have to say, that’s a little icky.

  21. Ismone says:

    Jake,

    Actually, I feel that way because he wrote the book and is married to a Chinese woman. If he were married to a Chinese woman, but hadn’t written the book or made any weird generalized statements about what boils down to orient v. occident (I use those terms very sarcastically) sexual death match, I wouldn’t make any such assumptions.

  22. I can understand how this happened. In order to review the book professionally you have to read it, şişme bebek which means you need to obtain a copy from somewhere/someone. I don’t see you hurrying this text on your Amazon wish list, so that goes out the window.

  23. Ely says:

    I agree with Jake.

    What I find particularly icky is the implicit assumption made about Bernstein’s wfe. The attitude toward their relationship is patronising towards her.

  24. Erb says:

    I find it interesting that you use his book, which you have never read, as a platform for your moral grievances.

    Perhaps if you read the book, instead of ignorantly following the words of someone else into an unrelated rant, you would find that he actually brings to light an interesting topic and does so in a journalistic, rather than academic, way.

    Read his interviews with the war vets in Vietnam, the owner of the go-go bar in Thailand, or some of the ladies themselves. He doesnt outrightly demonize them as you would prefer, rather he lets them speak for themselves.

    I’ll bet that his descriptions of the sexual culture of “the East” are based on male interpretations, reports and writings. I’ll bet that female voices factor in very, very little, if at all; I’ll bet that they’re usually filtered through male writers and speakers.”

    How much?

    I haven’t spent enough time in “the East” to say much of anything about anyone else’s sexual culture.

    Yet you do anyways.

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